Winter Classic has grown into an outdoor hockey festival
ABS-CBN Sports on Jan 01, 2016 07:03 PM
The Montreal Canadiens practice on the outdoor rink at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015, where they will play the Boston Bruins in the NHL Winter Classic hockey game on New Year's Day. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
JIMMY GOLEN, AP Sports Writer
FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts (AP) — Since the NHL first experimented with outdoor games more than a decade ago, the Winter Classic has grown into a festival of fresh air hockey that this year included for the first time a professional women's game.
As part of the buildup to the New Year's Day game between the archrival Bruins and Canadiens, the Boston Pride played the Montreal Canadiennes at the home of the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. The two leagues that participated hope it will be a turning point in their effort to gain a footing on the professional women's sports scene.
"What great exposure," Pride defenseman Marissa Gedman said. "Especially to have the NHL backing us. That's huge."
But there is still a way to go: The women's teams played two, 15-minute periods with running time and a friends-and-family crowd of a few hundred people. The game ended in a 1-1 tie.
Asked what more she could have hoped for, Pride defenseman Blake Bolden said: "a third period."
The first period ended when a Pride player, Denna Laing of Marblehead, crashed into the boards and was taken off on a stretcher. The league said she was transported to Massachusetts General Hospital. No further information on her condition was immediately available.
The women's game was followed by a matchup of NHL old-timers from the Bruins and Canadiens. Outside, a free spectator plaza with live music, family-friendly games and a public skating rink completed the festival atmosphere that has come to surround the Winter Classic and make it the league's signature regular-season event.
Fans booed the Canadiens alumni, but mostly good-naturedly, and the style of play was more reminiscent of a no-defense All-Star game than one of the bone-crunching battles the teams have waged through their history.
Friday's game is not expected to be so genteel — not with the teams separated by one point in the Eastern Conference standings.
"Playing on a stage like this is something you'll remember for the rest of your life," Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban said. "We want to get the win and the two points. But enjoy the experience because it is just that, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Here is a look at some of the milestones in hockey's return to its outdoor roots:
COLD WAR: It all started in college in 2001, when Michigan State decided to move its hockey game against rival Michigan to the football stadium. The game, which ended in a 3-3 tie, drew a then-record attendance of 74,554 and perhaps convinced NHL officials that an outdoor game was possible.
HERITAGE CLASSIC: Two years later, the Edmonton Oilers celebrated their 25th year in the NHL by playing the Canadiens in the first "Heritage Classic" — the first regular-season NHL game to be played outdoors. A crowd of 57,167 in Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium saw the Canadiens beat the Oilers 4-3.
The regulation match was also preceded by an old-timers' game that included Wayne Gretzky and Guy Lafleur, as well as Mark Messier, who was still playing for the New York Rangers at the time.
NEW YEAR'S DAY: The current look of the Winter Classic really took shape on New Year's Day, 2008, when the Sabres hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the home of the NFL's Buffalo Bills. (Pittsburgh won 2-1 on Sidney Crosby's clincher in the shootout.) Snow flurries added to the wintry feel, and the teams switched sides midway through the third period (and again in overtime) to neutralize any advantage gained by wind or sun.
The teams wore vintage uniforms, which has also become a Winter Classic staple.